After months of planning, public listening sessions and a juried design competition, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), yesterday announced the selection of the architecture firm Weiss/Manfredi to lead a master planning team in re-imagining the iconic and world-renowned La Brea Tar Pits.
“They assembled a dream team of collaborators each with a deep connection to the tarpits,” Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of the NHMLAC, told the Buzz was the reason for the selection.
The firm’s multidisciplinary team includes Los Angeles-based experiential designer Karin Fong of Imaginary Forces; horticulturalist and nationally recognized expert in water conservation and California ecology, Robert Perry of Perry and Associates Collaborative; Los Angeles native and La Brea-educated paleobotanist Carole Gee; naturalist and artist Mark Dion; and designer Michael Bierut of Pentagram. The team will be augmented by Los Angeles-based consultants, including architect and historic preservation advocate Brenda Levin of Levin & Associates. A range of additional Los Angeles-based consultants will also be engaged in the master planning and subsequent project implementation phases.
“In addition, they really got the integration of the indoor and outdoor uses of the space (indoor as a museum and outdoor as a research site), and integrated the use of the site as a community green space as well,” added Bettison-Varga.
“I am very supportive of this selection,” said Caroline Moser, an architect and Windsor Square resident who has worked with Michael Manfredi. “They have done wonderful work and their project for the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Visitor Center shows they have a real flair for the intersection between landscape and built work, which will serve them well in this project.” Moser is also President of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and a member of the Alliance Circle, a support group for the Natural History Museum.
Windsor Square architect, Martha Welborne, also lauds the selection of Weiss/Manfredi.
“In my opinion, Weiss/Manfredi clearly had the best scheme because they understood and respected what Angelenos love about the Tar Pits site and museum. They were also my personal favorites because I have known Michael Manfredi since the 70s when we went to architecture school together. He has been winning competitions since then!” Welborne told the Buzz.
Those sentiments were also reflected in the public feedback, which Bettison-Varga said aligned with the recommendations from staff and volunteers.
“We looked at the public feedback from a variety of demographic perspectives and found it was uniform across the board,” said Bettison-Varga. “The Weiss/Manfredi plan felt like the best fit and the most welcoming place. It was wonderful to see the internal feedback from staff and the museum’s board align with the public feedback.”
Also, the Weiss/Manfredi design was the most practical,she said, because it allows the museum to remain open while the renovation is underway.
“Because they understood the site was busy and it’s important to keep it open. their project would be phased in,” said Bettison-Varga.
Now the Weiss/Manfredi team will work with NHMLAC on a multi-year process of public engagement, master planning, design and construction at the Tar Pits’ 13-acre campus.
“Now we start the planning process,” said Bettison-Varga. “We expect it will take a year to have a true conceptual design. We will make sure that there will have public feedback throughout the process to continue the dialogue we started with the community. It’s so important to have the public understanding from the perspective of the location; its importance as an icon of the community, its place as a unique site for scientific research and it’s also a park for the community.”
More information and images of the conceptual design by Weiss/Manfredi can be found at tarpits.org/reimagining-la-brea-tar-pits.
“There is truly no place in the world as magical as La Brea Tar Pits. We and our team are deeply honored and grateful for this once-in-a lifetime opportunity to reveal the multiple identities of the Tar Pits, the Museum, and Hancock Park. Our ‘Loops and Lenses’ concept creates new connections between the museum and the Park, between science and culture, and envisions the entire site as an unfolding place of discovery. We are thrilled to begin work with Dr. Bettison-Varga and NHMLAC to rejuvenate the Tar Pits and the Museum and carry them into the future and into the public imagination,” Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, principals at Weiss/Manfredi, said in a press release.
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County are a public / private partnership with the County of Los Angeles, which owns the 23 acres of Hancock Park, including the 13-acre parcel managed by NHMLAC. Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a press release, “I’m happy to see the County move forward on this distinctive 21st century re-imagining of one of our most notable cultural and scientific landmarks. We considered proposals from around the world, received input from thousands of members of the public, and chose this exciting concept which will dramatically enhance the public experience while improving the sustainability of the Museum and Tar Pits.”
NHMLAC chose Weiss/Manfredi’s team through an international search process, in which the Museums chose three finalists based on the overall quality and character of their response to a Request for Information, their conceptual approach to the project, and their previous experience and team strength, along with interviews and references. Copenhagen-based Dorte Mandrup and Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York were the other two finalists announced at an “incubator” event held in June 2019, in which NHMLAC convened more than seventy leading figures from the fields of science, the arts, design, entertainment, education, technology, communications, philanthropy, and government for a day of open-ended discussion to kick-start the process toward developing conceptual approaches. In August, the three finalist firms and their teams publicly shared their visions for the site’s future. Through displays prepared by the three teams on view in the Page Museum and materials available on TarPits.org, NHMLAC invited public feedback on the proposals and received more than 2,100 survey responses that reflected Angelenos’ appreciation for the beloved site and cultural resource.
To assist with their selection, NHMLAC assembled a jury of leading figures from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, design, science, natural history, and the arts. Jurors included Milton Curry, Dean of USC School of Architecture; Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer, City of Los Angeles; Kirk Johnson, Director of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; Kristin Sakoda, Executive Director, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture; and Barbara Wilks, Founding Principal and Architect, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC.
“There’s no site in Los Angeles, and really no site in the world, quite like La Brea Tar Pits,” said jury member Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles. “It’s a place of deep emotional connection and nostalgia for Angelenos, a community gathering place and a green space in the middle of the dense Miracle Mile, and a world-class location for research, discovery, and exhibition. I’ve been impressed by the patient and inclusive process that NHMLAC put together to choose a master-planning team. And in that process Weiss/Manfredi and its collaborators stood out with a concept for the site that is both full of fresh thinking and thoughtfully responsive to those layered existing conditions.”